June 17

This Day in History

General Interest

Jun 17, 1994:

O.J. Simpson arrested after flight from justice

After a dramatic flight from justice witnessed by millions on live television, former football star and actor O.J. Simpson surrenders outside his Rockingham estate to Los Angeles police. The police charged him with the June 12 double-murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ronald L. Goldman.

Earlier in the day, after learning he was to be arraigned on the charges, Simpson attempted to escape Los Angeles, but the police located him in a vehicle being driven by his friend, former professional football player Al Cowlings. Simpson, speaking on a cellular phone to the police, explained that he had a gun and was suicidal, and the police agreed not to stop his vehicle by force. Los Angeles news helicopters soon learned of the event unfolding on their freeways, and live television coverage of Simpson's attempted flight began. As millions watched, Cowlings drove Simpson's white Ford Bronco, escorted by a phalanx of police cars, across Los Angeles while Simpson cowered in the back seat, allegedly with a gun to his head.

Finally, after nearly nine hours on the road, the Bronco returned to the Rockingham estate, and a tense 90-minute standoff in the driveway ensued before Simpson finally surrendered. In the vehicle and on his person were discovered the gun, a mustache and goatee disguise, and his passport.

His lengthy criminal trial was a sensational media event that brought to light racial divisions present in America while also, some believed, calling the U.S. justice system into question. In polls, a majority of African Americans consistently believed Simpson, who was black, to be innocent of the murder of the white victims, while the vast majority of white Americans, supported by the media and law enforcement, maintained Simpson's guilt.

Although the evidence appeared to be pointing almost indisputably toward Simpson's guilt, on October 3, 1995, the jury of nine African Americans, two whites, and one Hispanic took just four hours of deliberation to reach their verdict of not guilty on all charges. In 1997, however, Simpson was found liable for several charges related to the slayings in a civil trial and was sentenced to pay millions in compensatory and punitive damages to the victims' families, little of which they have received.

In 2007, Simpson ran into legal problems once again when he was arrested for breaking into a Las Vegas hotel room and taking sports memorabilia, which he claimed had been stolen from him, at gunpoint. On October 3, 2008, he was found guilty of 12 charges related to the incident, including armed robbery and kidnapping, and sentenced to 33 years in prison.

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